Thank You. [Post 2/3]
This past Sunday we made the announcement that I would be making the transition from Youth Pastor to Associate pastor at New Vintage Church. I co-led my first youth event 20 years ago, and accepted my first full time youth ministry position almost 15 years ago to the day. Over those two decades God has provided hundreds of people to pour into my life, build, encourage, and support me. Simply put, I owe so many of the blessings in my life to the people listed below. I thank God for each and every one of you, and if I forget anyone I apologize, I’m going to type until my fingers are sore.
John Austin Smith
Austin was my first youth minister. I fought to be a part of the youth group in 6th grade because he was such a challenging leader who always sought to bring out the best in us. His ministry tree spreads far and wide, without sacrificing depth in any way. He taught me that there was no depth too far to go when it comes to talking about faith with other, and there is no substitute for genuinely caring about others. To say that he is missed dearly is an understatement.
For encouraging me to take more youth ministry classes in college, setting me up on a mission trip, practically dropping me off at my first internship, and being a constant source of inspiration and motivation. I don’t think anyone outside of my family saw ‘youth pastor’ in me quite as quickly as Dudley did, and I can’t think of anyone who did more to help me get started down that road. There’s probably hundreds of people that can say the same about Dudley, and he’ll be the first to tell you he’s just getting started.
The late Tony Alley
In maybe one of the most pivotal conversations in my life, Tony and I talked after one of my night classes for several hours. I confided in him that I didn’t feel like advertising was going to be my career path, and I had been bitten with the ministry bug. He said that there was no reason I couldn’t do both. It was like a light went off in my soul and I haven’t looked back. He then helped go to admin on my behalf to help me adjust my college course load to get as much Bible in there as possible. I was heartbroken when he passed due to a brain tumor, and pray every day he knows how much of an impact he made on my life.
I ran into Mitch the first week of my senior year of college at the OC coffee shop. I told him that I was going to graduate with an art degree, but I wanted to get into youth ministry. I would have little experience, no degree, and was single, so I needed something to give me a good start. He immediately offered me a job for the next summer, and said I could stay on until I found a full time job. And that’s exactly what he did. Mitch might be the best storyteller out there. He may also be the kindest. He taught me how to treat people in ministry, and the importance of telling great stories to show God working in people’s lives. Another constant source of encouragement, Mitch has always been the person I knew I could count on for a kind, honest word.
Don and Donna Millican
I spent the better part of a year living in the room they added on to their house to provide a space for church interns. Without a doubt they are the most generous people I have ever met. Lord knows how many kids they have helped through school, through internships, through service. To say that they have blessed a ton of people is an understatement, and I consider it an honor to be on that long list of names.
Aaron was one of the youth ministers when I started at Park Plaza in Tulsa. He taught me about pacing myself, keeping a healthy balance of fun and seriousness. He also set a great example of what it means to be unwavering when it comes to living out the word. He is humble, so he might not get the attention that he deserves, but I couldn’t have asked for a better youth minister to intern under.
Luke was the yin to Aaron’s yang. He also taught me to keep a healthy balance of fun and seriousness. Luke was the first person to force me to ask serious questions about pursuing youth ministry for a living, all the while pushing me out of the proverbial plane. God used him to speak one of the most important beliefs that I’ve held on to these past two decades; you need to go where you’re most needed to serve.
Jay showed me what it was like to put art into ministry, and ministry into art. This was an answer to a huge prayer, and something that still resonates daily with me. Hands down the most subtly cool person I’ve ever worked with. If it weren’t for Dan convincing me I needed to come out to work in SoCal, Jay would have been the one to keep me in Tulsa.
Hands down the most fun I’ve ever had in a church office. Jim has constantly been a source of joy and great encouragement. He couldn’t stop being a source of encouragement if he tried.
Randy was the first Executive Pastor I worked with who understood that nerf gear was a line item in the youth budget. Randy taught me the importance of standing your ground and doing the right thing, even if it costs you dearly. He walked that fine line between friend, mentor, and fellow pastor. Randy also taught me the power of leading without being in front of the pack, and what it means to shoulder more than you can on your own.
Nobody will ever work harder, or serve more wholeheartedly than Matt. Matt was more than a roommate and friend, Matt has been a constant source of encouragement and joy. We’ve been through some of the toughest times together, but I’ve never had a bad day with Matt around. Any and every church should have a Matt Armstrong.
Peter taught me the importance of worship, and why that should always be on the forefront of my ministry. We both came into our own at the same time, with parallel but very differing journeys. I’ve always laughed at how we can be so similar but so different. It’s proof that a mutual belief in God transcends so many other details.
Rudy defines presence for me. There is no doubt when Rudy is present in your life, and there is no doubting what Rudy is about. Rudy is about Jesus, and making disciples for Jesus. He taught me the power of using your presence to bring something meaningful others. The fun part, Rudy might have the most intimidating physical presence of anyone I know, but I can’t think of anyone more gentle with another person’s soul.
Tim saw potential in me when others didn’t, including myself. For the past ten years we’ve enjoyed pushing each other, butting heads, then grabbing lunch. I don’t know anyone who is so singularly focused on Kingdom work, and the pursuit of excellence in that work. We’ve spilled more blood together, been through more ups and downs, and have more ‘can you believe that’ moments than I can possibly count.
The SoCal Youth ministry Mafia
I would not have lasted two years (the national average) if it weren’t for this crew. This group has been a constant source of joy, encouragement, and learning. I’ve said it many times before, and still wholeheartedly believe that youth ministers simply cannot work alone, and need to be in community with others who know the joys and stresses of our line of work. I thank God for these men and women who have sacrificed so much because of their dedication to the Kingdom. Most are underpaid, many are undervalued, and all have been overworked at some point or another. But if you ask any of them they will tell you we have some of the most blessed lives imaginable, and all of them are unequivocally dedicated to helping students grow their faith.
The youth minister’s minister; Jack has energy to spare, and exemplifies what it means to be fueled by God’s grace. He is second to none when it comes to being able to immediately know what needs to be said. Wether its’ something fun and goofy to energize the room, or something deeply convicting, Jack never seems short for the right words.
Matt had that ability to go from 0-60 when it comes to fun, and then do a complete 180 and bring depth to any moment. Matt’s honesty and integrity, even during difficult times have set a high standard for me in my life, and I thank God for the times that we served together.
Trey might be the funniest person I’ve ever met. He was also the spiritual barometer for our crew for a long run. Trey has never hesitated to hit the brakes on joking around so that we can ask the serious question about who God calls us to be. I’ve been blessed with many great friendships, few fill the soul like Trey.
I don’t know anyone who is more dedicated to the pursuit of education than Zac. Combine that with a sharp sense of humor; Zac has been my go-to person for discussing challenging ideas, developing a love of deep theology, and a deep laugh. Zac has always had the strength to stand against the grain when needed, without sacrificing any integrity.
He won’t read this, and would probably say ‘meh’ to whatever I’d write, which is why he is still one of my favorite people. If there were any of my friends that I’d beg to write a book on faith, theology, or ministry, it’d be Donny.
Anyone that knows Bryan, knows that he is probably the smartest person in any given room that he walks into. What a lot of people may miss is that he may also be the funniest person in any given room. Working with him behind the scenes on camp together gave me an insight how his mind works, it also gave me an insight into what it means to lead with integrity and humility.
Dusty is the definition of what it means to be disciplined. It’s a trait that I don’t possess, so it’s one that I admire and respect. Another man who is not afraid to go against the grain, Dusty has that unique ability to reshape what others lift up. Dusty is also a man of actions over words, which gives an extra measure of clout to the conversations we have had over the years. He is a great leader, and phenomenal at developing the best in others.
Our crew has watched Brenden grow from a teen into a vital part of the SoCal Youth Ministry community. You will not find anyone on our crew with more natural giftedness for ministry.
Lars is the next generation youth minister. He’s saavy, smart, and relentless in pursuit of taking a ‘live it out then preach it out’ approach to ministry. One of the comforts of stepping out of my role is knowing that guys like Lars are leading the next wave.
None of us wears their heart on their sleeves better than Garrett. He came into a tough spot following a great youth minister, and moving to SoCal from west Texas, and he has owned every moment of his time here. Garret has been a great example of how meekness is truly a gift of strength.
Ny church homes:
El Cajon Blvd Church of Christ
My first church home, the community that nurtured our young family when I was a kid, and provided a cornerstone for my parents faith, and set the bar very high for what it means for a church to be family.
Woodinville Church of Christ
I begrudgingly moved to Washington my freshmen year of High School. I went from an amazing youth ministry, to a church plant with a handful of other kids my age. It was tough for me, but our family was cared for in ways that still resonate today. So many people poured into my life during that time. I think they knew I needed to be surrounded by people who cared, and the Lord provided. When my dad became sick, Woodinville became a support system that is unrivaled to this day. Dad’s memorial tree is planted there, and I fondly look forward to any visit back to my home at Woodinville.
Weatherford Church of Christ
I never meant to spend a summer in Oklahoma but I thank God every day that I did. Twice. The first round in the smallest town I’ve ever lived in, with some of the nicest people. They offered me my first job, and were willing to wait for me to graduate a year later to come on full time. That message was the vote of confidence I needed to know that youth ministry wasn’t just a whim, but something to pursue. My heart broke when I told them that I felt like I should head back to SoCal instead of taking the job, but I knew they would find a great person that would be staying in Oklahoma for a long time and they did.
Simi Church of Christ
Simi was the first place in SoCal to take a chance on a would-be youth minister with no experience, no degree, and no wife. The holy trinity of not getting hired as a youth minister. Those four years provided the groundwork for so many lessons, and I thank God for the opportunity to cut my teeth there.
North County Church of Christ
This was the first place where I had students ask me to come be the youth pastor. It was also the church that helped me fall in love with my new home, and secure my desire to be a pastor in the San Diego area
for the rest of my life.
New Vintage Church
Iv’e sacrificed for this Kingdom outpost from day one, and I’ve never regretted it. The friendships that have been made over the years, the stories that we have shared, and the mountains we have climbed together are without rival. To say that I am overjoyed to call this church home for years to come is an understatement. I thank God every day for the chance to serve alongside you, and look forward to how God is going to use this new position to bring a deeper understanding of how blessed we are to serve Him together.
And then there are people who deserve thanks, who’s influence and friendship have transcended ministry roles or titles:
You may have heard that Dan and I are friends. We are also brothers. I do not know of a better youth minister. Dan is a Godly man, a Christ-like leader, and a disciple of the highest caliber. I have never seen him waiver in his faith, or his dedication to serving the Lord.
When I read the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, I always think of James when I get to verse 8 where it reads, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”. James is a man with a pure heart, and it is completely enveloped by a love and respect for the Lord.
Travis is an encourager, and a constant source of joy. Having friends that can speak the truth in love, and then throw a sly joke in the middle of the conversation are truly a blessing. Travis will be the first to admit that living a life of faith has not always been easy, but that honesty, vulnerability and experience has made his faith even more valuable to my life. Also, the man is a movie-quoting champ.
My cousin Kyle
This journey would not have happened without him. My place to vent, my voice of reason, and my source of many deep conversations, and a few bad ideas. I thank God for our time living together, and the many late night soul stirring moments over a good drink that we’ve enjoyed over the years.
The Henegar Family
My second family. The way that you have opened up your home and your family, and allowed me to walk as your own had been a blessing from the Lord over the years. In my toughest times, I found myself living in the Henegar house. The conversations with Dr and Mrs Henegar during those times were life changing, life giving, and Spirit filled. In addition, the blessing of growing up with three older ‘sisters’ has been a great source of joy over the years.
My source of humility, joy, and encouragement. There is never lack of adventure with Sarah, or an awkward moment that passes unannounced. My constant source of Carpe Diem.
Mom was the first youth minister I ever admired. She has always had a heart for teens, and a faith that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Our house was never locked, our friends were always treated like family, and we were always the last to leave church after services. And I can’t begin to count how many people we’ve shared a Sunday lunch with because of mom. I may look like my dad, but I got my youth ministry from my mom.
This thank you is going to stay between me and him for right now.
My beautiful bride Stacy.
I married the kindest person I’ve ever met. Watching Stacy minister to others constantly impresses me. Her genuine care for others, and her gentle spirit are admirable, and stand in stark contrast to how so many people treat each other. And those eyes…
I know there are others that deserve a note of thanks, and I look forward to handing those out in person. Most importantly, I thank God every day that He saved me, that He sustains me, and has given me so many great stories to fill my soul. I look forward to expanding those stories beyond youth ministry, and am excited for what God has in store for me and our family over the horizon. Escondido is home, New Vintage Church is family, and God has a lot of work for me to do, so I will wrap up with a thank you for reading this not-nearly-exhaustive-as-it-should-have-been list of thanks.